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Idaho state superintendent not sold on plan to fund public education with sales tax increase

Sherri Ybarra sat down with our Doug Petcash to talk about the proposal during a taping of Viewpoint.

BOISE, Idaho — Do you want your taxes to go up? Probably not. But, what if a sales tax increase went solely to funding Idaho education?

The concept pitched by state Senator Jim Rice is in it's very early stages, but already creating a lot of conversation.

Now Idaho's top education official is joining that conversation, and she isn't sold on the tax increase.

Senator Jim Rice of Caldwell is pitching a 1% sales tax increase. He says that increase would generate roughly $250 million for school districts across the state. 

The idea also involves eliminating those school supplemental levies that show up on your ballot, because school needs would then be funded by the sales tax increase.

Idaho's top education official, Sherri Ybarra, isn't quite sold. 

"As the superintendent of public instruction I'm always going to support more money for education, but I think in this scenario we need to be careful about plans that are long-term and sustainable, we can't keep taxing the people of Idaho and expect that, that will fix it. Especially, if we are looking at a sales tax. What happens for example, in the future, should the economy have another recession, should sales take a nose dive," Ybarra said. 

What would happen to sales tax revenues if the economy tanks? History shows us, this. 

The big recession in 2008 hurt state sales tax revenue by over $200 million.

After two full years though, the economy rebounded and so did tax revenues.  

Can Idaho count on the consistency of sales tax revenues? 

Since 2006, the overall percentage of state dollars from sales tax has fluctuated up and down but stayed consistent. 

It's not a perfect metric, but it does show that percentage wise, sales tax makes up about the same percentage of state tax revenues. 

In 2019, Idaho set the highest percentage since 2006, at 30% for state and local taxes collected from sales tax. 

So what is Ybarra looking for? 

"Sustainability for education and that's what kids need the most is a sustainable long-term plan for keeping a stream of money flowing into education. So I would be more supportive of taking a look at what ways can we do that that is a more sustainable long-term plan for education," Ybarra said. 

To be clear, Ybarra along with everyone else has not seen the bill proposing the sales tax increase. It has yet to be drafted, so for now it is wait and see. 

You can watch the full interview with Sherri Ybarra on Viewpoint this Sunday morning at 6:30 on Channel 7.

RELATED: 'It's damaging people': Republican Idaho state senator proposes sales tax increase to reduce property taxes

RELATED: Proposal would raise Idaho's sales tax, phase out school supplemental levies

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